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25 Jan 2010 - 16:25
15 Jan 2010 - 18:53

chestnut pear soup

Friday, 20 Nov 2009

Roasted, candied, whipped into a gelato, pureed into a soup-- I salivate for chestnuts in any fashion, at any time.  Throughout the streets of Europe in the fall and winter, you'll find vendors on every corner selling freshly roasted chestnuts.  I love to snack on these-- they are tasty and nutritious, and I somehow feel virtuous for choosing to munch on them.   

We spend quite a bit of time in the northern Adriatic Istria region.  El Burrito is from Slovenia, and when we're there, we like to cruise around sniffing out the choicest spots for snacks and drinks in the area.  There's a gelateria in Trieste, Italy named Zampolli. No matter how cold it is, when it's chestnut season, you'll find me asking for scoop after scoop of their sensuously creamy candied chestnut gelato if I'm anywhere within 100 kilometers on any given day.  The arrival of candied chestnuts (marron glacé, castagne candite, whatever you choose to call them) is just about the only thing that soothes me when I start freaking out over the fact that winter is coming.  Gelateria Zampolli doesn't have a website, but if you ever find yourself in Trieste, make your way to Via Carlo Ghega No. 10, just a couple of blocks from the train station. I've professed my loyalty to the candied chestnut offering, but I can heartily recommend pretty much everything they make.

A while back I set out to make something incorporating this seasonal favorite but that wouldn't send me into glycemic shock.  So, a soup was born, and though it has a hint of sweetness, this chestnut-pear combo provides a perfect savory start to a homey fall meal.  It's creamy but not heavy, hearty but completely unique.  It's not your everyday combination, and I think you'll find it incredibly comforting and exciting to your palate in equal dimensions.  You have various options for the chestnuts. Most difficult: start with raw, whole nuts. Easiest: use pre-peeled, vacuum sealed, par-boiled nuts.  For an additional flavor profile, you can roast some chestnuts in your fireplace or just buy some roasted nuts from your favorite street vendor.

Chestnuts are the only nuts that contain Vitamin C, and they are full of fiber and low in fat.  Pears have these same qualities, and their pairing in this soup gives you a welcome boost now that the sniffle season is revving its motor.  Served in shot glasses, this could be an unconventional amuse-bouche for a funky Thanksgiving meal.

Chestnut Pear Soup

400g chestnuts (raw, parboiled, or roasted)
2 large, or 3 small, pears (I like to use Bosc)
1 leek
1/2 c dry white wine
4 tablespoons agave syrup (optional)
stinky blue cheese, the most delicious in your area
about 1L of chicken stock
coarse sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper
olive oil for cooking
best unfiltered, extra-virgin olive oil for serving

Peel the pears, slice in half length-wise, and scoop out the small core with a small spoon. This isn't a beauty contest, so just be sure to remove the seeds and the most fibrous bits of the center.  If your pears are very ripe and sweet, you can skip this next step: poaching.  If they need a little oomph, boil a couple cups or so of water in a small pot with 4 tablespoons of agave syrup. Once the water boils and the agave syrup is well dissolved, lower heat to simmer and drop in your pear halves to poach.  After a couple of minutes, flip them over, they will take about 5-7 minutes total.  Turn the heat off and leave the pears to rest in the liquid until we need them.

Now for the chestnuts.  If you are using raw nuts, you'll have to do a little prep work.   First, make sure you buy nuts that feel heavy for their size and have shiny, tight, dark skin.  Second, a little precaution: chestnuts explode during cooking if the shell isn't punctured prior to heating.  To prevent projectile-nuts, cut an X into the rounded side of the chestnut prior to cooking, doing your best to avoid cutting into the meat.  I find this technique the safest, as the nut is well balanced on its flat side and it won't move as you etch your mark.  Be careful, chestnuts are rather hard, so just take your time and don't cut yourself!  Specialized knives with an eagle-beaked blade exist for this purpose, but no need to load your kitchen cabinet with another specialty gadget.  

Fill a heavy pot with water and drop in the scored nuts.  Bring to a boil and then lower fire to a simmer, for about 20 minutes.  Test to see if the nuts are cooked: if they can be pierced easily with a knife, you are good to go.  Drain the pot, put on some gloves and peel the chestnuts while they're still hot. If you have a food mill, pass the nuts through to create a smooth puree.  If you don't have a food mill, don't worry we'll use an immersion blender in a little while for everything.  I like to use a food mill because chestnuts are very high in starch, and I prefer the texture when they've been subjected to as little blender friction as possible.  

If you prefer to roast your chestnuts in the oven
, preheat to 375 and roast for about 20 minutes, until the skin starts curling back. This method will leave you with a denser, drier product, so the food mill won't work well.  Peel while still hot, but leave the nuts aside for a bit, we'll incorporate them later.

Heat the chicken stock to a boil in a pot. To make this vegetarian, just use water and season with salt.

Clean your leek by chopping off the top fronds (save them for a stock!) and cutting a line down the length of the stalk, halfway deep into the leek.  Rinse it under running water, running your fingers through the center slice to make sure you've removed any stubborn dirt.  We're going to use only the white and lightest green parts of the leek, so chop it into thin rounds.

Heat up some olive oil in your favorite soup pot and drop in the chopped leek.  Saute for a few minutes until the leek is soft and translucent, beginning to caramelize.  Pour in the half-cup of dry white wine-- I really only like to cook with something I like to drink, though the alcohol will evaporate, the flavor will not.  Let the wine reduce for a couple minutes, then drop in the pear, a dash of coarse sea salt, and the liter of chicken stock.   Bring out your immersion blender. If you haven't passed your chestnuts through a food mill, drop them in right now as well.  Give your blender a whirl, directly in your soup pot, until everything is well incorporated and smooth.  Pass the mix through a china cap or other sieve to remove any errant chunks and then return to the pot, cover, and let your soup simmer for about 15-20 minutes.  If you've used a food mill, you'll add the chestnuts in after you've finished blending and you don't need to pass it through a sieve at the end.  

To serve, ladle your soup into bowls, place a small chunk of your favorite blue cheese in the center, and finish with a swirl of your best extra-virgin unfiltered olive oil and twist of freshly cracked pepper.  If you want to use this for an amuse-bouche, just pour a small dribble into a clear shot glass and top with a small cube of blue cheese.

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Hungry Burro - chestnut pear soup

Comments (1)

caffettiera | 02 Dec 2009 - 06:07

Thanks Paula! When I saw a 'mexican/us' based blog talking about Trieste I just could not believe my own eyes. I lived a couple of years in Trieste and have left a big chunk of my heart there. Zampolli was THE place to meet with friends in winter, and chestnut semifreddo (it is not a proper ice cream, it contains more whipped cream so it has a softer, less iced consistency) was one of my favourites as well. The only drawback is that Zampolli closes for a couple of months in the heart of winter each year. Gorgeous recipe, as usual, also: thanks!

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